- Round 16 and penultimate race of 2020 Formula 1 season takes place in Sakhir, Bahrain this weekend
- George Russell set to deputise for Lewis Hamilton, after compatriot tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in week
- Pietro Fittipaldi also stands in for Haas’ Romain Grosjean, after horrors of last weekend
SAKHIR, BAHRAIN – As Formula 1 lines up for its second weekend in Sakhir, will George Russell seize his moment in the spotlight for Mercedes?
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Moving on from Bahrain horrors
With the horrific events of last Sunday still fresh in the mind, Formula 1 will look to move on at the Sakhir Grand Prix this weekend.
Aside from Lewis Hamilton‘s 11th and fifth-consecutive race win of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix will be remembered for Romain Grosjean’s miracle escape.
As the Frenchman arrived at the track on Thursday, Grosjean was sporting bandaged hands as a result of his minor burns sustained, after his car went up in flames only five days ago.
With the paddock reuniting in the knowledge Bahrain GP weekend could have ended in a far far worse conclusion, Sakhir’s second weekend of double duty, will seek to forget the dramatic images of less than a week past.
Russell given chance to shine
Reeling from the events of last Sunday, F1 was further rocked on Monday with the news seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for Covid-19.
Whilst the 35-year-old has reported only mild symptoms, it left Mercedes with quite the quandary in who would fill the Briton’s weighty boots this weekend.
As a cast of names were assembled including Mercedes’ reserve Team driver Stoffel Vandoorne, deputy-in-chief this season Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Lando Norris – tipped to follow in the footsteps of his countryman.
It was however, Williams’ George Russell, who was given the nod.
The 22-year-old from King’s Lynn has caught the eye this season in just his second year in F1.
As part of Mercedes’ junior driver program in 2017, now, the Norfolk man has his first chance in the Petronas spotlight, in what could be a career-defining weekend for the burgeoning Brit.
But as Russell told F1.com, he is not under any pressure to perform in the absence of Hamilton:
“I’m going to go out there, I’m going to enjoy it and there’s been no targets, no expectations expected from me by Toto [Wolff], by Mercedes, because you can’t judge somebody off the back of one race I think.”
New horizons for Haas
As Grosjean himself continues to recuperate from his miraculous escape, Haas F1 meanwhile, are approaching new horizons.
Whilst this weekend Pietro Fittipaldi will replace the rattled Frenchman, the US-based team are verging on an a potentially exciting new era, after this past week saw the announcement that Mick Schumacher will drive for Haas from next season.
F1 these days is very much a family affair and just like Pietro – following in the footsteps of grandfather and former two-time world champion Emerson – Schumacher Jr’s arrival has been in the making for some time.
On the verge of sealing the F2 crown this weekend over Callum Ilott, Schumacher will also bring his proving-grounds cohort Nikita Mazepin with him next season.
Schumacher is under no illusion of the importance of his journey to F1, and as he told BBC Sport, described his switch as a life-long ambition filled.
“The prospect of being on the Formula 1 grid next year makes me incredibly happy.
…[And] to finally reach my goal – everybody’s goal is F1 – to be one of those 20 drivers is something incredible. I am just really a bit overwhelmed and happy to be confirmed and that I am going to be standing on the grid next year.”
Outer Circuit breaking boundaries
As the Sakhir International Circuit hosts its second race in a fortnight, racing this weekend however, will take place on a completely different track.
Using the track’s Outer Circuit for the penultimate race of the season, it is the first F1 race of a linear configuration.
Cutting out the primary circuit’s internal layout, drivers will race a round a more rectangular lap, with just 11 Turns.
Not only that, but the lap counter will go into overdrive this weekend, taking in no less than 87 trips around the track.
As what will undoubtedly be one of the fastest tracks on any calendar season, lap times are expected to clock well under a minute, indeed, registered times could go as low as 55 seconds.
For that reason and many obvious others, Sakhir GP weekend will be one of huge intrigue.
The Sakhir Grand Prix takes place this weekend, at the Sakhir International Circuit, Bahrain.
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